Meet the Sheffield brothers taking the ancient art of jewellery making to homes and restaurants across the country

James Cottingham started out as a footballer and his brother, Luke, as an audio engineer. Now they run a successful bespoke jewellery business. Laura Reid talks to them about their story.

James Cottingham, of Cast, which offers bespoke jewellery-making experiences.

It’s fair to say that James and Luke Cottingham are not afraid to try something new. The Sheffield brothers put aside their experience as a footballer and audio engineer to go into business together, first developing a menswear label before changing tack and now running Cast, a company which offers bespoke jewellery-making experiences across the UK.

“We aren’t afraid of a challenge,” says James, who at 28 is the oldest of the pair. “We do like to say ‘yes’ to most things and to bite off more than we can chew. We like to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.”

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Perhaps that attitude explains why, after a transition into jewellery for a collection with their clothing brand, the duo set out to do something “new and a little bit different” with the long-established craft of lost wax casting, an art so ancient that the earliest known examples are thought to date back to the fourth millennium BC.

The business aims to take jewellery making to venues across the country - and allow people to give it a try at home.

The traditional method is a tried and tested process in jewellery-making; a wax model is crafted to imitate the finished piece and then used to create a mould into which molten metal is poured to form the final product.

“We’d seen the process in action and we knew how magical it is, because the scope of the design is totally unlimited,” James explains. “We knew there was this totally amazing thing but the gap in the market was that it wasn’t really accessible.”

The brothers claim to have reimagined the creative process of jewellery-making by offering people the chance to craft their own bespoke pieces from the comfort of their own homes or from some impressive venues across the UK.

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Brothers Luke and James Cottingham are the men behind the business.

Quite where is an extensive list – bars, restaurants and boutique shops; hotels, art galleries, florists; stately homes such as Chatsworth House; and, of course, their studio space in Sheffield’s Kelham Island.

There are two parts to the Cast business. The first is its series of events, hosted by James or Luke or a member of their team. Those taking part are given the tools required to make jewellery in wax form and the sessions also often include a menu served up through collaborations with local food businesses.

“Someone hailed what we do as a jeweller’s bench meets chef’s table,” James says. “We like it. Some people will need help and others are really capable of just cracking on and experimenting. Over the course of three hours, there will be drinks and maybe some food and at the end of it, everyone in that room will have created a bespoke piece.”

As well as public events, the brothers have organised private hen dos, birthday parties and corporate team-building sessions. Engaged couples have also joined them to create their own wedding rings.

The process after each event is the same; the wax creations are sent to Birmingham where they are brought to life in family-run casting workshop A Wardle and Co. The finished products, cast in silver, gold, or platinum, with any requested stones or engravings, are returned to customers within three weeks.

The second element of Cast – and it evolved from the first – is its jewellery-making kit, which people can use to craft in wax at home before sending their designs off for casting.

“When we first started doing events, at every one without fail somebody would ask if they could take the tools back with them and do it at home,” James recalls. “It was difficult for us to say ‘yes’ because we only had so many tools.

“The natural thing to do was to create something that people could do from home and then find a way they could get it back to us and then us back to them when it was cast. That has been a big process for us and the product has evolved so much.”

The kit has commanded much of their focus in recent weeks, having been forced to hit pause on their events due to the Covid-19 outbreak, though they have been running live sessions and masterclasses online.

The period has seen an increase in sales of the product and the brothers have been taking the time to develop their inspiration guides and tutorials for the people who buy them. “That has always been part of the plan but I guess it’s been fast-tracked a little bit because we’ve switched the other half of the business off.

“There’s so much opportunity on both the events side and kit side and we’ve probably made the mistake of trying to do too much at times... In this climate, we can focus on the kit, what we do with that and how we engage our customers.”

Pandemic or otherwise, this is all a far cry from what either of the brothers were doing 10 years ago. Luke, now 26, opened his own recording studio when he was 16 and went on to study audio engineering. James, meanwhile, signed for Sheffield Wednesday after leaving school, later playing professional football in both the US and Spain.

“Then I came back,” he says, “and like so many young, aspiring footballers nothing else ever materialised and I was left on the scrapheap a little bit.”

It was at that point, in 2012, that the brothers went into business together. They started with t-shirt designing but went on to develop menswear brand SugarSkull. With the help of a friend who was a silversmith in Sheffield, they devised a jewellery collection for their brand and later trialled jewellery-making sessions in a retail environment.

“At that point, we thought this has the legs to be so much more,” James says. “We thought there must be many other people out there who share the same desire as us to create unique things totally personal to them. So we thought let’s make [lost wax casting jewellery-making] accessible and do it in a space that’s familiar and have it as a really chilled thing to do.”

When Cast was born, originally a collective endeavour between the brothers and their friend, before he later moved on, James and Luke phased out the clothing brand.

The years that have followed have been a process of constant development for them. When Cast first launched, they hosted one event per month. Now the business has delivered more than 600 experiences.

The team has grown too, with nine self-employed Cast event hosts now working across the UK, and, among other developments, the brothers are working with a team at the University of Sheffield on digital technology that they hope will help the business to continue to grow.

One piece of kit in the pipeline is a rendering programme. It will allow people to use their phones to scan their wax creations and will show them a 3D image of what the piece will look like once cast in metal.

“This is particularly relevant for us when it comes to making wedding rings,” James says. “It should give people the confidence that what they’ve made is good and dispel any worries. The process of creating together is something you can immediately buy into.

“But that final bit is ‘I’ve got to wear this for the rest of my life – is it going to be right?’ With this tool, they’ll be able to see that.”

In the past four years, the brothers have not been afraid to take a gamble. There have been times, James reflects, when he and Luke have “put it all on the table”. “The exciting part of it for us is the challenge of growing a business and learning each day.”

Visit www.experiencecast.com

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